EL CENTRO â€“ Tuesday, Dr. Steven Munday, Imperial Health Officer, and Robin Hodgkin, Director of Public Health, explained to the Board of Supervisors exactly what the recent California mandated quarantine for patients with known risk of carrying Ebola meant for the Imperial Valley. This was relevant, especially in light of the recent scare a few weeks back in the Valley.
According to Hodgkin, the Health and Safety Code provides the County Health Officer a mandate to order quarantines, if necessary, to stop the spread of a disease. Quarantines come at three different levels; the health officer can implement any one of the three to limit movement of the individual. Different risks correlate to different levels of being quarantined.
Hodgkin told the board any order by the Health Officer is subject to judicial review within 48 hours, and any order can be enforced through law enforcement.
Hodgkin said, â€œWe have worked through the State of California so the Imperial Valley will have knowledge of anyone entering the County who is at risk of carrying Ebola. We are working very closely with Customs and Border Protection, and we will assess anyone who is crossing or is detained at the border if they are at risk and we are working with the local Health Officer and the State Ebola team, to categorize that risk and we do active direct monitoring, and if Dr Munday believes a quarantine is necessary, we will impose the quarantine.â€
â€œWhat we are doing is following the levels imposed by the State. Since there were only four cases in the United States, we are at limited risk here, but we want to make decisions that are based on scientific evidence and be prepared for any case scenario,â€ Dr. Steven Munday added.
Michael Kelley (District 3) asked if a vaccine is possible from previously healed patientsâ€™ blood. Dr. Munday said it was reasonable to assume there would be a marketable vaccine in the next few years for Ebola.
Jack Terraza, (District 2) asked what was the procedure if someone is picked up the border that has symptoms of Ebola and recently was in contact with an Ebola infected person. Terraza wanted to know if they would be allowed into the United States, and if so, what does the County do and how soon is the County notified.
Dr. Munday answered, â€œThe specific internal procedure is something Customs works out themselves, but most of it comes down from on high, from the Center for Disease Control (CDC). However, local agencies must be informed when Ebola-at-risk individuals enter the County.â€
Terrazas interrupted him by saying,â€ But are they informing you after they bring them in?â€
Munday answered saying, â€œBasically, there is a screening process that takes place when somebody enters, if somebody comes from a country at risk, they are screened before we even are aware they are here or we have access to them. If the screening causes any concern, then they will contact us, we will do secondary, or more detailed screening, and decide what the actual concern is. Then, we would make decisions of what needs to happen next.â€
Dr. Munday continued, â€œIf somebody is actually sick, obviously that would be a more urgent process, and things are already in place, centers are already established to send these people to immediately. We have already been dealing with our first responders, including our hospitals here, until they know what to do if the situation comes up.â€
â€œWhat is your obligation to notify the general public if someone does enter who is suspicious of carrying Ebola?â€ Terrazas questioned.
Hodgkin answered saying, â€œWe refined our procedure, what we do is measured or controlled. We donâ€™t throw someone into an ambulance and rush him or her to a hospital. We will go to the border, or where ever that person is. Once we have identified there is a risk, then the first thing we do is start notifying the appropriate personal to make decisions. We may transport the person from the scene to the UC hospitals equipped to deal with Ebola, bypassing local hospitals. Or we may put together a safe response team, to transport him or her. Depending on the risk level at that location, the goal is to transport from the scene safely to the designated hospitals. This means the person may stay at that location for hours. These are not urgent medical cases; these are cases that need to be handled very carefully.â€
Ray Castillo asked about the previous scare. Hodgkin explained that the person had an unclear travel history, which included traveling from West Africa. According to Hodgkin, the person had never traveled in any of the infected countries, or in the infected region. â€œDue to an abundance of safety, we mobilized the hospital, the State, and the local Health Department. It was a great practice, especially since it turned out to be a safe, dry run.â€
County Attorney Rood asked Hodgkin if it is anticipated if any of the doctors or health workers would be returning to the Imperial Valley from West Africa. Hodgkin replied that there is no travel ban to those countries and citizens from the valley are free to travel there to help. There is no way of knowing, until they return and declare where they have been, and what they have been doing. The mere fact they were there doesnâ€™t mean anything more than that we would monitor them.â€